The Political Economy of Attention: Global news Agencies and the Destruction of Democracy

Author: Lee Artz


The digital information age brings an unlimited capacity for news and entertainment, as newspapers, television, satellite and cable networks are supplemented (or supplanted) by some 200 million websites. Ironically, in the midst of this burgeoning information circus, global news agencies, remain primary producers of news and information, even for entertainment. The largest news agency is Associated Press (AP), which has some 250 news bureaus in 120 countries, with a net income of almost $200 million. Yet, despite its size and reach, AP may be the least investigated news media organization. Indeed, AP is seldom mentioned or else appears as a normative given in media studies of news framing, agenda setting, and political economies of the media industry. This critique of framing functions of AP offers some initial observations on global news agencies and their impact on democratic communication and citizenship. This work finds that as part of a transnational media regime constrained only by the limits of human attention, AP robustly competes for viewers by shortening messages, emphasizing news spectacle, and privileging elite sources over social movement advocates, while avoiding historical context and consequence. AP news wire releases rely on headlines, sound bites, and heavily dramatized events. The result has been more news clutter, more news stimulation, and more transnationally hegemonic news frames. As the primary news producer and distributor on four continents, AP thus contributes to reducing democratic public discourse.

Key words: Associated Press, global news agencies, media framing, transnational
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